Covered in forests of oak, cork and giant cedar, the Middle Atlas is a beautiful and relatively little-visited region. The dark brown tents of nomadic Berber encampments immediately establish a cultural shift away from the European north; the plateaux are pockmarked by dark volcanic lakes; and the towns initially feel different, too, their flat, gabled houses lending an Alpine-resort feel, particularly at the “hill station” resort of Ifrane, where the king has a summer palace. If you just want a day-trip from Fez, the Middle Atlas is most easily accessible at Sefrou, a relaxed market town 28km southeast of the city, though Azrou should be on most itineraries as well, an interesting Berber settlement with an excellent and authentic souk, and ideally located for forays into the surrounding cedar forests.
At Azrou, the road forks and you can take one of two routes. The N13 heads southeast to the former mining town of Midelt and on to Er Rachidia, a journey that traces the old Trek es Sultan, or Royal Road, an ancient trading route that once carried salt, slaves and other commodities with caravans of camels across the desert from West Africa. Heading southwest, the N8, the main route to Marrakesh, skirts well clear of the Atlas ranges, and is lined with dusty, functional market centres, though Beni Mellal is something of a transport hub along the way. From here you can cut south to Azilal, jumping-off point for the magnificent Cascades d’Ozoud and the stunning High Atlas valley of Aït Bouguemez, or strike out for Imilchil and the epic mountain roads that lie beyond.Read More
- Azrou and around
- El Ksiba, Imilchil and across the Atlas
The Cascades d’Ouzoud are the most spectacular in Morocco, their ampitheatre of waterfalls falling into pools in a lush valley that remains invisible till the last moment. The wide spread of cataracts at the top isn’t entirely natural – water from the river is funnelled through a variety of irrigation channels towards the rim of the falls – but the result is an image that is not too far removed from the Muslim idea of Paradise depicted on gaudy prints throughout the nation. Nor has the site been overcommercialized – despite the cascades appearing in every national tourism brochure, the atmosphere remains laidback and relaxing. That there are pleasant walks in the locale is just another reason to stay overnight: to swim in pools below the cascades by moonlight (technically forbidden) is something special, and in late afternoon, arching rainbows appear in the mist around the falls.
The path to the base of the falls starts from the top of Ouzoud, to the left of the Dar Essalam, then zigzags past cafés and souvenir stalls to the great basins below the cascades, where boatmen in rickety rafts row visitors to the main pool; the first viewpoint, halfway down the path, is the best place to see the largest rainbows and is close enough to feel the spray on your face. Before you descend, however, take a look at the lip of the falls just past the Riad Cascades d’Ouzoud at the top of the village. The little concrete huts here shelter small watermills, some still grinding wheat into flour as the river is diverted through the wheels before it plunges over the edge. Although strictly speaking it’s not permitted, you can swim in one of the lower pools – currents are dangerous in the main pool beneath the falls – and you might spot the occasional Barbary ape under the oak and pomegranate trees; your best chance is at daybreak or an hour or so before dusk, when they come to drink in the river.
- Aït Bouguemez
- Midelt and around